LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Lancaster woman and her boyfriend were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the torture and murder of Anthony Avalos, the woman's 10-year-old son.
Heather Maxine Barron, 33, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 37, were convicted in a non-jury trial March 7 of first-degree murder and torture for the June 21, 2018, death of Anthony Avalos.
Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta, who found the couple guilty, handed down the life-without-parole sentences for the pair Tuesday morning after hearing more than two hours of emotional statements from the boy's relatives and friends, many of whom referred to the defendants as "monsters."
"Anthony was a helpless child who was dependent (on the defendants) ... for his basic physical needs and emotional support. Instead Anthony was tortured and killed," Ohta said as he meticulously walked through his sentencing decision.
Neither Barron nor Leiva spoke during the hearing.
The first family member to read aloud a victim-impact statement ahead of the sentencing Tuesday was an 8-year-old boy.
"I miss my cousin Anthony," the boy said, reading from a prepared text. "I was a baby when I last saw him. I wish I could remember all our times together, but all I have is pictures and stories that my family tells me.
"Heather is an evil monster," the boy said, referring to Barron. "She deserves to spend the rest of her life in prison. I don't forgive Heather for taking my cousin's life. I hope she gets beat up in jail because I just wanted to meet Anthony."
Wiping away tears, a 16-year-old girl said: "Anthony was never related to me but I still called him my cousin. Anthony was my shoulder to lean on, as well as his siblings' shoulder to lean on."
Addressing the two defendants directly, she said: "The two of you don't deserve sympathy. You don't deserve anything. I want you to know that I hate you both. My mom always tells me that hate is too strong of a word, but it's the only word that expresses my feelings towards you two."
On March 7, Ohta found the two defendants guilty of first-degree murder and torture in a non-jury trial after the two waived their right to have the case heard by a jury.
"It is clear to this court beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant targeted Anthony as a scapegoat for extreme cruelty," the judge said in rendering his verdict in a ruling that stretched over more than 50 pages.
The judge said in his verdict that the couple "worked together to deprive Anthony access to liquids for a substantial length of time causing severe dehydration," and that the "condition of Anthony's body, which shows multiple bruises, cuts, possible burn marks all over his body show the extreme torture caused by the combined treatment of Anthony by both defendants manifesting an intent to kill by each defendant."
Ohta rejected the defendants' claims that Anthony had been injured after throwing himself to the ground and said that their statements were intended to "deceive authorities" about what had actually happened to the boy.
"Defendant Barron waited to call 911 until Anthony was literally deceased on the afternoon of June 20, 2018. This flagrant lack of care for Anthony's life all points to intent to kill by both defendant Barron and defendant Leiva," the judge said, adding that subsequent statements by Barron and Leiva were part of a coordinated effort to cover up their liability for the boy's death.
The judge also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture of Anthony.
The two were also convicted of two counts of child abuse involving the boy's half-siblings, identified in court as "Destiny O." and "Rafael O," although the judge rejected an enhancement of great bodily injury against Leiva involving Rafael.
The judge said testimony during the trial from the two half-siblings and one of Leiva's daughters -- who said they witnessed Leiva repeatedly dropping Anthony on the bedroom floor -- showed that Barron and Leiva "worked together to abuse Anthony." He said the boy died from severe dehydration and blunt force trauma to the head, saying then that "the evidence supports the conclusion both defendants hurt Anthony for pleasure" and that the 10-year-old boy was "helpless to protect himself against the wrath of defendants Barron and Leiva."
City News Service contributed to this report.